Two of Hip-Hop’s arguably most vulnerable and outspoken voices link up to share their message of self-love and faith in one’s own abilities in “Love Yourself.”
Perhaps what’s most striking about this musical collaboration is the initial gut reaction I had seeing Mary J. Blige and Kanye West’s name side by side. “This will be epically awesome or epically tragic, but it will be epic!” I thought to myself as I pressed play with bated breath. The initial piano chords and Mary’s piercing vocals open the track. “I’ve been up and down and through it all and it took awhile to know my own heart.” Damn. I can relate already, as the words are ambiguous enough to allow the listener to derive meaning from it however they see fit. For me I thought about past romances that fizzled out and the lessons each of those experiences taught me. For you, these words could encompass the tortured love affair basketball fans have with the Knicks. All jokes aside, the opening verse Mary sings about “truth” being the “sweetest pain” and how that truth can ultimately “mess everything up.” I heard the lyrics to mean that on our quest for love many truths we hold to be self-evident can and will be reimagined which can and should lead to a new understanding of ones self via this breakthrough (see what I just did there?)
During the chorus The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul sings “Oh, you gotta love yourself if you really wanna be with someone else / You gotta feed yourself before you feed somebody else” OMFG if this isn’t the truth! How many times have we sacrificed and extended ourselves for people in relationships whether platonic or romantic where you give genuinely and freely only to have them bleed you dry. Once you’re depleted and undoubtedly depressed and confused you sit back feeling dumb for giving the love you could be giving yourself to another. Perhaps this is why the songstress sings in the chorus “You gotta stay open, and don’t be foolish ’cause everybody don’t mean you well.”
Kanye’s verse is the proverbial Phoenix rising from the ashes! “I decided not to use my color as a handicap/ He a designer, artist, producer, and he rap” Immediately I’m all in and can relate because I was taught from an early age that I am second to no other human especially in terms of race and I too am an artist, producer, and I rap! “Made it out of the basement/Made it out of the underground” The Phoenix rises! “From a town where you outta town they might gun you down, blaow” The self-love message Kanye raps about is unabashedly a Pro-Black stance on the subject and manages to simultaneously juxtapose and congeal with Mary’s more pick up the pieces after heartbreak viewpoint. It’s evident the Chi Town murders of young Black lives due to gun violence is the type of communal healing and self-love Kanye is speaking to. Also, the overarching theme of “respect” is prevalent throughout the song, but is more brash and emphasized when the rap impresario closes his verse out with “You need to talk to me like you don’t when your mother ’round” The same respect (love?) you show your mother by speaking in a manner that connotes said respect, is the same way you should talk to Kanye. Conceivably “Love Yourself” is a sermon that features two of music’s most recognizable prophets that preaches intra-communal love and respect for Black folks in their relationships both romantic, platonic, and most importantly the relationship with themselves. In the end, LOVE YOU LIKE KANYE LOVES KANYE!!!
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